What it’s all about

It says something that I can’t think up a witty headline.

My thesis investigates the development of leadership identity through lived experience in the Australian creative industries.

Using a model of lived experience development by Kempster (2006) and the concept of learning through communities of practice (Lave, 1991) I am exploring how creative practitioners relate to leadership and learn leadership skills.

My perspective is social constructionist, that is:

  • takes a critical stance
  • is conducted within a historical, social, cultural context
  • believes knowledge a social process
  • understands the researcher cannot be separated from the research outcomes
  • sees knowledge and action  as interlinked.

There is no one ‘true’ leadership model. Leadership, like knowledge and creativity, is contextual, social and forms through the interaction of individuals. However it needs to be examined in light of context: political, economic, cultural institutions and dominant discourse.

In terms of Fairhurst and Grant’s (2010) ‘sailing guide’ to social constructionist views on leadership I believe in social construction of reality, or as Hammersely puts it ‘subtle realism’ where independent reality exists, we just cannot access it. We can represent reality, not reproduce it.

My perception aligns with Kempster’s critical realist stance in that leadership is contextual and constructed, but differs in that fact that I view it is constructed by the individuals who participate in it.

The role of the interview, and consequently role of the researcher, is also explored. If we examine Kempster’s model (below)


There is space for reflection, and the interviews conducted have become, for many, one of those spaces.

My three discussion chapters currently under consideration are:

  1. The development of leadership identity.

Exploring how my primary subjects see themselves in terms of leadership. This chapter will focus on narrative analysis and explore answers to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?”

From this analysis a continuum may be developed demonstrating how leadership, and leadership identity is viewed by those on the creative industries.

2. Multiple leadership constructions

There is no ‘perfect’ leadership model, but many versions of leadership being undertaken by individuals as constructed by their social processes.  These multiple concepts, maybe fluid, of leadership explain two things, first, why there is no singular definition, and second, why there is a tendency to reject leadership identity, as there is no ideal identity to embrace. (This will not help me write a best selling leadership book however.)

Those that are willing to be considered leaders are those who know that leadership is constructed through actions and language, not following a set of prescribed behaviours.  They are not measuring themselves against an ideal, but constructing their own leadership reality.

This shall be demonstrated by coding themes from all 40+ interviews.

3. How communities of practice/lived experience shapes leadership identity through discourse and context.

In this section I hope to show, through coding, that common themes exist within case studies but difference emerge across case studies.  How the leadership identity within the visual arts differs from theatre (for example) and why this may be the case.

I need to return to Hammersely’s claims and conclusions, but on the side advice of my supervisor I’m focussing on what these findings mean for individuals.  In line with constructionist principles,  believe in theory for action, not theory for theory. Ideas i’m toying with*:

  • Build your community. Leadership is constructed and learned through experience within your community. Get into it. Whether you’re a solo artist or a collaborative performer. This can be done in many ways.
  • Keep doing leadership. Leadership is lived.  Whether you think you are a leader or not keep doing. It’s not a job title or a salary package.
  • What’s in a name? Does it matter if you think you’re a leader? Yes and no.  See above, keep doing leadership as it’s great.  But the more we ‘work out loud’ to show the different possibilities or forms of leadership the more individuals will realise it comes in many forms and guises. We need cultural leaders of all types.

*Seriously work in progress.